Kuwait’s unique plants ‘on the verge of extinction’

Ben Garcia – KUWAIT TIMES

Ryanterium Epapposum, the scientific name for Kuwait’s national flower, known as ‘Arfaj,’ is on the verge of extinction because of increasing human activity.
Arfaj is just one of the 370 species of Kuwaiti plants that face extinction if the government does not seriously look into the problem of environmental degradation. While acknowledging the work contributed by the Environment Public Authority (EPA) and other environmental agencies here, Dr Jose Kaitharath, an Indian Botanist, noted their role is too little and that sooner or later, the next generation will not be able to enjoy the benefits of a natural ecosystem.

I remember touring with a group of students from Kuwait University in a reserve area where we saw a cluster of Arfaj. I was surprised that most of them didn’t know what Arfaj looks like. It was their national flower but sadly they don’t really know much about it,” he noted. Dr Kaitharath suggested that the reason they were ‘na�ve’ about their national flower was because such a plant was no longer visible in many areas.

Dr Kaitharath noted that Arfaj became Kuwait’s national flower not because of its ornamental value but as a natural medicinal aid for many in Kuwait during the early years. They were also used as food for their sheep, firewood and as bedding. Plants and trees in Kuwait are destroyed continuously through human activities- from building construction to off roads events such the common leisure buggies, camping and even dumping construction waste. “If you happen to visit the deserted areas in Kuwait from the b
order of Saudi Arabia to Iraq down to Kuwait City, you will notice high scale destruction of the ecosystem. Really, it’s very sad and alarming , that is why we want the authorities here to really do something, it’s never too late. But, they really have to start and act now for the benefit of the future generation in particular. More so, the world in general,” he noted.

He underlined that most of the plants unique to Kuwait are of the delicate types, in the sense that once the ecosystem is damaged by human activities, it will not be able to survive and subsequently disappear forever. “The plants unique to Kuwait are strong in nature as they have to brave the harsh weather conditions. But once damaged by human activities, it could take years and years to resurrect it, that’s only if there seeds are still available in the soil. If not, it will be extinct. The 370 plants sp
ecies in Kuwait cannot be found at other places in the Middle East,” he adds.

Another plant on the verge of extinction is the lycium. It’s a thorny plant that grows to 2-3 meters in height. It served as a natural habitat for many living beings in the desert like insects, lizards, snakes and birds. But even the lycium population is gradually declining. Classified as a tree in the desert, Lycuim according to Dr Jose, has natural water reserve on its leaves so that animal and insects living in the desert areas can survive. Sadly though, there has been no sufficient mechanism to protec
t them in their natural habitat.

Gynandiris Sissirinchium, a plant that produces an orchid like flower commonly known as ‘iris’ is hardly found in the desert. Iris is an ornamental plant which was commonly used during early years, but now simply loses its appeal to flowers imported from Holland and other European countries. The Iris flower is a natural purple in color and can be compared to a tropical orchid flower, the difference being that it has tiny flowers that are very attractive.

Senicio glaucus, ‘Nuwara’ in Arabic, is the most commonly admired natural yellow flowers, that sprouts during early spring. But do you know that Nuwara was not a native of Kuwait? According to Dr Jose, it originated in another country (country unsure) but was discovered by Kuwaiti ancestors as their ornamental plant. The Nuwara plant has yellow blossoms and is found mostly at the deserted areas in Kuwait. This was the only ornamental plant that is increasing in number, but sadly, are not considered native
to Kuwait.

Dr Kaitharath was previously employed by the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) and is presently working as technical and botanical researcher for Faisal Sultan Al-Eassa Est. They are conducting a collaborative research with KISR on methods of preserving Kuwait’s endangered ecosystem. A part of their projects include mass production of organic and vegetable farms through hydroponic business.-Watch out for ‘hydroponic production’ in Kuwait.

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